Skift Take

Gibraltar is in limbo post-Brexit, and a new treaty might abolish its border, tightening its relationship with Spain. That's a huge plus for its travel businesses.

Gibraltar, the longtime UK territory at the southern tip of Spain known famously for its tourist hot spot The Rock, could be joining by year’s end the European Union’s Schengen region, a change in border restriction that could boost future tourism prospects.

A new treaty that is close to being negotiated would allow Gibraltar to join Schengen, made up of 26 European countries that have abolished border control, allowing citizens to travel between these countries freely. Travelers used to be required to show British or EU passports or EU national identity cards as identification, but if Gibraltar abolishes its border post-Brexit, they can cross without even presenting a passport.

The Schengen countries include Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

If Gibraltar gets added to the list, it will get a whole lot closer with Spain, and will bring economic benefits to both countries. Vijay Daryanyani, Gibraltar’s tourism and business minister, told The Telegraph that 16,000 Spaniards cross the border daily to work in Gibraltar’s hospitals, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Now that they won’t be stopped at the border, it’s likely that the number of people traveling into Gibraltar for work will increase even more.

“We have more jobs than people, we need them to come and work in Gibraltar,” said Daryanyani.

Separate from work, Gibraltar joining the Schengen area will incentivize a lot more leisure travel. Naturally, if it is easier to visit, it will become a more desirable vacation spot. The small territory has a population of just over 30,000 and is nicknamed “The Rock” thanks to its famous limestone promontory that stands 1,398 feet tall. With less travel restrictions, it could be a destination on many more travel bucket-lists thanks to The Rock’s intricate system of underground tunnels and impressive views. 

Gibraltarians will also venture out to the other 26 European countries in the Schengen region more than before, and due to its close proximity, Spain will probably be the most popular of the group. 

In his annual Budget address, the Deputy Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Dr. Joseph Garcia, said that “the governments of the UK and Gibraltar are now working together on a plan to extend the pedestrian entry facility at the land border with Spain.” The reason this expansion is noteworthy is because it will allow for the installation of “e-gates” on the Gibraltarian side (they are already in place on the Spanish side). An e-gate is “automated technology” that will greatly speed up the process of traveling into Gibraltar.

The pandemic took a large toll on Gibraltar’s economy. “The latest public figures show that the overall impact of the pandemic here is over £360 million,” said Garcia. Engaging in easier travel with Spain will invite more commerce, tourism, workers, and movement in general which would be a really helpful boost. 

If a treaty calling for Gibraltar’s border to be abolished is signed, and it covers aviation, then “it will set the legal basis for flights to and from the EU,” said Garcia. It will be much more feasible for people to travel to Gibraltar for tourism and work because they will be able to hop on a plane to do it. Then, hopefully, the pandemic won’t feel like it’s as large of a chip off “The Rock.”

With an agreement on the horizon, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said it will “present an opportunity for us to recast our relationship with Spain.”  

Tags: economy, european union, gibraltar, schengen, spain, tourism, treaty

Photo credit: Tourists visiting the Rock of Gibraltar Jon Nazca / Reuters